The Crowd: Women gather money for foster youth scholarships

One of the most important social events on the Orange Coast to raise funds that directly affect the lives of disadvantaged young people recently drew 300 generous donors to the Island Hotel, Newport Beach.

An auxiliary of the Orangewood Children's Foundation, 44 Women for Children is a grassroots confederation of local citizens that raises significant funds every year to for college scholarships for foster youth. The recent luncheon, co-chaired by Andrea Casaw and Jessica Wohl, brought in $100,000 net in support of the cause.

The title sponsor of the luncheon was Sunwest Bank, with major support from the Samueli Foundation, the Anaheim Ducks, Doug and Sandi Jackson, Opus Community Foundation, Shirley Pepys and Jaynine Warner. The keynote speaker was actress Melissa Gilbert of "Little House on the Prairie" fame.

"None of us is alone or unique in our suffering, " said Gilbert, who has shared her public struggles with alcoholism and her recent divorce. "People who do this work, helping foster youth through Orangewood, are angels on Earth."

Comments from an Orangewood college scholarship recipient also made a significant impact on the crowd. The young woman who attends Cal State Fullerton was candid with the audience about her personal story of family abuse.

"My life is not a sob story; it is a miracle," she said. "It is filled with great sadness. I have felt immense loss, but I feel that this darkness has made my happiness a dearer and brighter treasure to me. Being trapped and then freed makes freedom all the more wonderful, and life that much more exciting."

The young woman went on to say how much she appreciated the gift of education made possible by 44 Women for Children.

"I once thought it was out of my reach," she said, adding, "I hope that someday my experiences will allow me to help someone else."

Making the event possible were committee members, including Kelly Bozza, Karen Goldhirsh, Susan Samueli, Roseanne Levan, Leslie Ordonez, Sonja Carlin, and Terri Ellison.

Also supporting the cause were Carey Clawson, Ann Diem, Lupe Erwin, Lauren Joliffe, Kimberly Kirksey, Yvette McCarthy, Dena Parker and Joyce Piercey.

Samueli founded 44 Women for Children in 1999. The group has raised in excess of $2.3 million for Orangewood, earmarked for college scholarships for emancipated foster youth.

In the fiscal year ending in 2010, 325 students received Orangewood scholarships, enabling them to attend 80 universities in 15 states. In the world of charity and society, this is one effort making a tremendous difference, rippling through multiple layers of the American landscape and making a real difference now and an untold difference in the future.

THE CROWD runs Saturdays and Thursdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club & Resort in Newport Beach.

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